Daily photos by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Dressmaker Cynthia Johnson alters Shay Williams’ gown at CFashion, Johnson’s shop on 19th Street Southeast in Decatur. Seeing the smile on a client’s face when she tries on her new outfit that fits perfectly is the best part of the job, Johnson said.
CFashion banks on custom dressmaking
By Danielle Komis
Dressmaker Cynthia Johnson ushers Shay Williams to the mirror. She methodically pulls stick pins from between her lips and sticks them through the soft red fabric of the size 14 red evening dress that nearly swallows Williams’ thin frame.
“Is that how you want it?” she asks Williams when she finishes pinning the dress to a much smaller size and examines the high school student in the full-length mirror in her boutique.
“Yes. That’s perfect,” Williams says, smiling at her reflection.
Johnson, who has been sewing since she was a little girl, is a breath of fresh air for local women tired of combing through retailers’ racks looking for clothes that fit their figures or those who long for a unique look.
Johnson, who moved to Decatur from Chicago four years ago, opened CFashion dressmaking shop and boutique on 19th Avenue Southeast in Decatur in November. There, she custom makes dresses, as well as performs simple alterations and hems and sells clothing.
Even before Johnson’s shop was open, client Flora Madry of Decatur met Johnson and decided to give Johnson’s sewing skills a chance.
CFashion, which has bars on the windows and doors, is not your average-looking fashion shop. When dressmaker Cynthia Johnson first purchased the store, she had to fix the dilapidated ceiling and paint the floor. “I just did little things to make it more presentable,” she said. “It’s a good starter.”
Wearing Johnson’s specialty clothing is a great way to be unique and to have clothes that fit her proportions perfectly, Madry said.
“Some things you see at the store and you want only that,” she said. “But some things you want to make sure you’re different than everybody.”
Before she found Johnson, she used to travel to Priceville or Birmingham to get clothes specially made or altered.
When Johnson moved to Decatur, she was shocked at how few dressmakers were in the area — especially affordable ones. Chicago had plenty of dressmakers, including herself. She had a strong clientele base, and sewed bridesmaids’ dresses or wedding gowns at least three times per week.
When she and her family moved to Decatur, she worked in retail here for a while, then began taking odd jobs so she could get back to her passion.
She saved for about two years and finally had enough money to open her small store.
“It took me a long time to get up the courage,” she said. “In the beginning I didn’t know how I was going to do it.”
Motorists driving by the white shop with bars on the windows, near industrial plants and a small Mexican restaurant, probably wouldn’t guess what was inside if it weren’t for Johnson’s sign. The shop was formerly a coffeehouse and gaming room.
When Johnson got it, she and her family worked hard on it to fix the dilapidated ceiling and paint the floor.
“I just did little things to make it more presentable,” Johnson said. “It’s a good starter.”
In the future, she’d like to move to a more central location in downtown Decatur.
A passion fulfilled
But she’s happy where she is now, because she is feeding her passion for sewing.
Seeing the smile on a client’s face when she tries on her new outfit that fits perfectly is the best part of the job, she said.
She especially loves to make sexy clothing for plus-size women that they cannot find in mainstream stores.
“A lot of plus-size women don’t feel good about themselves because their clothes don’t fit right,” she said. “When your clothes fit, you look better and feel better.”
Johnson also sews other items that can’t be bought off the rack.
Cynthia Johnson with her daughter, Jo-Onna Johnson, 3, in her dress shop on 19th Avenue Southeast in Decatur. Johnson custom makes dresses, performs simple alterations, and hems and sells clothing.
The first wedding dress she made 16 years ago had a detachable train and sleeves, so the bride could enjoy herself comfortably at the outdoor reception in her wedding dress.
Johnson also makes apparel that is hard to find today, like children’s one-piece rompers. She recently made a blue-and-white gingham romper for her 3-year-old, and received rave reviews from teachers who quickly asked her to make some for their young relations.
A young dressmaker
Johnson learned her love of sewing from her great-grandmother, who was a dressmaker and her inspiration. After high school, Johnson went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she is 12 credit hours away from holding her degree in tailoring.
Now, Johnson hopes to pass on her love of sewing this summer when she teaches sewing classes at Decatur Youth Services.
She said she hopes other people can one day experience her favorite part of the process: when a client tries on a dress she made.
She likes it “when they look at themselves in the mirror and they say ‘Oh, it’s gorgeous.’ ”
A sampling of prices
Jeans hem — $10
Evening gown — $85 and up
Bridesmaid dress — $125 and up
Wedding dress — $400 and up
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